For several years now, small downtowns have been vanishing from the U.S. Termed “The Wal-Mart Effect” as far back as the mid-’90s, consolidated grocery stores have moved commerce toward the highways and away from rural and suburban downtown areas, which thrive on foot traffic.
Lewisville has been making a concentrated effort over the past decade to revitalize its downtown area, Old Town, pouring millions of dollars into public improvements and incentives for local businesses. But it’s not all public money that’s going into the revitalization.
Randy and Ronda Owens are the proud owners of the Main Street Mercantile and the Perc on the Plaza. They also own 170 W. Main St., the old washeteria behind it on Elm Street, the buildings in which Lewisville Boots and Whitestone Celebrations are housed and just purchased 165 W. Main St., which housed the recently closed Elke’s Beer Haus. And they’re looking for more.
“Everybody went to the highway, well, the downtowns die,” Randy Owens said. “The Old Towns are starting to revitalize again. Don’t really know why, other than maybe a little traditional, fundamental, patriotic, I don’t know what it is, but we’re trying to do that in Lewisville.”
The Owens’ plans for their Old Town buildings are an ambitious gaggle of added stories and new uses. They said they’re looking for a high-end restaurant to take over Elke’s old space, to which they want to add a second story with a removable roof that opens to the Wayne Ferguson Plaza stage. They want to move the Mercantile across the street, and aren’t sure what to do with the 156 W. Main St. building it’s currently housed in. In the 170 address, they want to see a grocery store on the first floor, office space on the second and a third floor with lofts, some facing Main Street and others facing Elm. Randy Owens said they already have three tenants for these lofts, before they’re even built.
Ronda Owens said she and her husband are driven by a love of antiques — hence the Mercantile being one of their first retail businesses — and the living history that downtown areas represent.
“When we’re traveling, we don’t go to the big clean nice restaurant on the highway. We go to the old part of town, the historic district, look up those neat, quaint, fun — those kinds of places,” Ronda Owens said. “I want that history to stay there, but I also want that history to be an urban area so we can make more history.”
The Owens are high school sweethearts who grew up in Lewisville well before the city’s boom in the ‘80s. While Lewisville High School today is the center of a bustling suburban neighborhood, surrounded by thousands of homes and a handful of national restaurant and bank chains, when they attended, it was in the middle of nowhere. Randy Owens said when he and his family arrived in middle school, area parents were still complaining about how far out of town they would have to drive to take their kids to high school.
“Everything in Lewisville between Kealy and, oh, say, Charles or right around there, that’s where the businesses were,” he said. “To go to high school, which was probably a mile, mile and a half away, that was like, ‘look around! I’m country!’ We had one red light. That’s it.”
Randy and Ronda, who was then called Ronda Daniels, met and eventually started dating, and were together for seven years before they were married. They have two children and four grandchildren, all of whom still live in Lewisville.
In addition to the Mercantile and the Perc, the Owens own three other businesses — Nelson Brothers Ready-Mix, a cement company for which Randy worked for years until they bought from Ronda’s father, R&R Trucking, which they started themselves in the early ‘90s, and RO Properties.
Lewisville has aggressively pursued improvements to Old Town in recent years, specifically angled toward increasing the amount of foot traffic and night life in the area — exactly what the Owens want to do, as well. Lewisville economic planning director Nika Reinecke said having private residents who are so loyal to the area is a boon to the city’s plans.
“Their contribution is tremendous,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have successful local business owners who have the vision, passion and resources to contribute to the revitalization of Old Town. Without the efforts of people like Randy and Rhonda Owens, the road to revitalization would have been much longer and harder to accomplish.”
Having grown up, fallen in love and spent the vast majority of their lives in Lewisville, Ronda Owens called investments in Old Town a labor of love.
“We just don’t want downtown to become all offices and close at five,” she said. “We want it to be a downtown area where you can get everything and do everything.”